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Defense gives up big plays, 415 yards in loss

September 7, 2004
Senior defensive end Clifford Dukes gets ahold of Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart, causing him to lose the ball during the MSU-Rutgers game Saturday in Piscataway, N.J. Dukes was the only Spartan to sack Hart during the 14-19 loss.

The MSU defense allowed only four field goals in Saturday's 19-14 loss to Rutgers, but gave up 415 total yards.

Rutgers' only touchdown came off an interception which was returned for six points.

MSU had one interception of its own, but that was one of the few defensive highlights from the game.

MSU's defense played about 40 minutes, more than two-thirds of the game, a situation the Spartans could not have prepared for.

Coupled with temperatures in the upper 80s and high humidity, conditions were tough for the defense.

"The coaches tried to prepare us for the heat by practicing inside with the heaters on, but it can't simulate the actual heat out here," senior linebacker and captain Ronald Stanley said.

"A lot of guys cramped up, but as a player, you have to fight through it."

MSU head coach John L. Smith said the Spartans defense fought throughout the game, but gave up too many big plays.

The Spartans gave up eight third-down conversions, which contributed to Rutgers' huge advantage in time of possession.

"Our defense was on the field all game," Smith said. "They played hard for being out there the entire game, but we gave up way too many third-down plays and plays that we shouldn't have."

All of the problems MSU (0-1) had against Rutgers made Smith question how much his coaching staff was asking of the players.

The Spartans were without junior linebacker Seth Mitchell and junior defensive end Mike Bazemore, who both sat out Saturday's game with lingering effects from previous injuries.

Without those players, younger, more inexperienced players were asked to step up and learn multiple positions.

Smith used redshirt freshman linebacker Kaleb Thornhill as an example, saying he was asked to learn three positions for the Rutgers game.

"Are we asking them to make too many adjustments too soon?" Smith said.

"Maybe it's too much with a limited personnel. We may just have to limit our packages and live with it."

Smith added the coaching staff will talk about scaling back the defense this week for the game against Central Michigan (0-1) on Saturday.

However, the team expects to get junior safety Eric Smith back as a starter and Bazemore back as well. Smith said he doesn't know when Mitchell will be back, but hopefully soon, he said.

Overall, MSU's preparation, or lack thereof, seemed to be the biggest issue for the defensive players after the game.

"When you're making adjustments, sometimes it's hard to get right into them," Stanley said.

"When you work on a game plan all week and then have to adjust to it - I'd say that was the hardest thing. There was nothing we really did wrong, we just didn't adjust very well to what they were doing."

Smith acknowledged it is the job of the coaching staff to give the defense only as much as they can handle.

He said the players were thinking too much and not "just playing."

The Spartans' consolation was holding Rutgers to 2-for-4 in the red zone (inside the 20 yard line), with the two scores being field goals, something Smith feels was a good sign.

"Our belief is that if we can continue to hold them to field goals - we should win the game," Smith said.

Senior safety and captain Jason Harmon said the team needs to learn how to deal with the ups and downs, which are to be expected early on in the season.

"You always have to be prepared to take the bad with the good," Harmon said.

"Nobody knows, except for us, what we're capable of doing. We have to pick each other up and keep going."

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